Of course when I went to see a football game on Saturday I couldn't just sit there and enjoy the match. For half the time, when not "yes"-ing and "ohh"-ing and "what was THAT?"-ing I was musing on the differences and similarities between spectator sports and theatre, and whether it would be possible to create something that is both (if WWE, previously known as WWF, hasn't done that already) and what it might teach both sides.
The thing I love about football is the engagement with what's going on, the noise, the atmosphere, and the chanting. People care about their teams, and are passionate about what's happening on the pitch. Shakespeare's Globe Theatre was probably much more like this. It's partly the competitive element. You're rooting for a team. You're also allowed to interact and make a noise so you can get much more fired up. It's a natural human instinct to express yourself when you're feeling involved in what's going on around you. That's an interesting question for theatre, in fact. I've heard that you can make yourself feel happier by smiling more so that might well work in reverse too. If you act as though you're not involved in something (apart from being allowed to laugh, I suppose) do you naturally then feel less involved?
The competitive element could easily be recreated. To still be a sport, it would need to be a genuinely open outcome: you couldn't know till the end who wins (and in fact this is where WWE plonks itself firmly on the side of being entertainment, as outcomes are pre-arranged). Quite a challenge for a company, but then Cartoon de Salvo, for example, manage to improvise so it's perfectly possible. It would probably be a bad idea to bring in real life loyalties, particularly because you might want to subvert them by the end, so better probably to put some thought into how you can recreate that and whip up the supporters during the play - always making sure it's with their consent. You could issue team clothing (perhaps avoiding deliberate football references like scarves and making it something more unlikely like pompoms or flowers), teach the audience chants, sit them in different areas. Even better you could ask them to choose a side. Ideally the theatre would be in the round so that it doesn't end up feeling like panto but is a space which is common to both activities.
You'd have to decide which sport. How fit would your players need to be? And how good would you aim for? It would be easy to think the acting comes first but watching skill at work is an important part of the enjoyment of sport too. How would it fit into a smaller space - or could you use clever camera angles and screens to zoom in on the action in a larger one? We use theatres for snooker, so it's all doable.
One problem would be keeping the enthusiasm going while still managing to impart the story, and how to manage the elements which are performance and pre-rehearsed in a way which keeps the game a real game. Football perhaps isn't the best model for this part; you could do it but the possibilities would be more limited. Using something like tennis for inspiration could be more helpful - everyone knows you have to be silent when play starts and the umpire tells you to be quiet if you're cheering and shouting for too long. There are conventions in the world of sport just as in theatre about when it's ok to respond and how to behave. Audiences can learn what your conventions are as long as you give clear cues. Another quite different useful model I was thinking of was the I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue game Mornington Crescent (SPOILER: the game consists of naming tube stations. You win by saying "Mornington Crescent". The performance element of the game consists of pretending that there are very complicated rules governing play. In some episodes, the players have even been asked to explain what they are doing as they do it, and they always allude to the move they're making. In fact there are no rules, and anyone can say Mornington Crescent at any point)
Mornington Crescent may not be competitive enough to count as a game, but it's not really of a different nature; it just takes the conventions and also the unwritten rules and the elements of performance in a game or sport to an extreme. The things that happen when footballers score a goal; giving back the ball to the other side if your team has had injury time: things which don't advantage a player or a team but are an important part of events. In a theatre piece you could build in elaborate rules of sportsmanship, of celebration, breaks between play, and plenty of the mini-dramas between the players which happen in sport, just heightened: the player who is always feigning injury, the friends across teams; those who desperately need to win and those who are giving up. There is plenty of room for story and imagination.
So finally, why? What would be the point? For me this afternoon it was clear: I think the two types of event would bring a lot to each other. As I've already said, sport engages a crowd in a way which theatre often doesn't. Even in participatory theatre I often feel a company are only pretending to ask me to be involved, and the storyline flows on. There is something real about nobody knowing who's going to win. Sport is hugely profitable, popular, and many sporting events are attended by vast numbers of the population with millions more watching on TV. There is also often (though not always) an equality too which theatre lacks: in football the players are from all backgrounds and countries: they may earn a lot but I think it's fair to say that anyone has a fairly equal chance if they've got talent. And what theatre could contribute to this is the challenge: using this passion and vigour to question what's going on in the world. Why do we support one team or country or ideology over another? Are we making informed choices or allowing random twists of fate to put us on sides? What can happen if we become too blindly loyal? How do we feel when we are winners or losers? Not too heavy or preachy a way - that'd ruin the fun of the game. But hoping that people go home reflecting.
Maybe it's been done already. It'd probably never catch on, on a vast scale. But it's going down on my list of projects I'd like to try some day. Theatre as sport, and sport as theatre. A new audience perhaps, a new way of working. Let me know what you think.